Between past and future... where are you?


As quiet as the mind can be when the body is wandering during the day, it can cover miles and miles of known and unknown territory in the night when the body is at rest. I try not to think about the last person lying in this bunk. Not to think whether he showered after completing the thirty kilometer walk from Luarca to here. But most of all I try not to think on which end of the bed he put his head and where his feet. When I am a guest in someone's house I don't need to bring sheets or a sleeping bag so I don't carry them around. But I couldn't find a host in Arboces and I had to check into an 'albergue de peregrinos'. So now I lie here, with my face directly on the mattress and my body under four tough and itchy cotton blankets, and it´s still cold. I try not to think about all this, but apparently thirty kilometers of walking is no longer enough to wear me out and so I woke up in the middle of the night... twisting... turning... freezing... thinking... do I smell feet? 

Two bunks further up lies Pedro, a 55 year-old truck driver from Bilbao. He walked the Camino de Plata from Cadiz to Gijon in twenty-three days and now continues on the Camino del Norte. He has walked them all: the Camino Francés, del Norte, Primitivo, Portugués, Inglés, but also others that don't end in Santiago, such as the Camino Mozarabe between Granada and Merida. Some of them he walked twice. I can't call myself a rookie anymore after my two thousand kilometer walk from the Netherlands, but I haven't seen many albergues on the inside up till now and he acts as if he is right at home. He knows instinctively where to find the facilities and prepares for the coming day almost ritually. 

Ruthless efficiency, I have a weakness for it. It communicates that at least someone knows what he is doing. I mostly just improvise and although that doesn´t prevent me from reaching my goals, the first encounter with professionalism is always a bit intimidating. On second sight it often turns out to go hand in hand with one dimensionality, absence of imagination, lack of any real talent and fear for the unknown, so recovery is never far off. Luckily, Pedro turned out to be alright. I am actually a bit disappointed that I don´t speak Spanish well enough to have more of a conversation. The best we could manage was Q&A. 

There isn´t much to do in an albergue and the facilities are minimal. Even complaining about that is no option, because you can´t ask for much for three euro´s a night. You can take a shower, go to the toilet and sleep. Unless you are sick, taking a shower and going to the toilet are not much of an evening program, so if you arrive early you are very glad to have a book. But Pedro bribed the volunteer of the inn to get her to make a tortilla, cut some Spanish ham and open a bottle of vino, an unexpected feast that he generously shared with me. It doesn´t get more ´peregrino´ than that. 

Over diner I asked Pedro if he keeps a journal of his walks. I saw him scribbling on some paper before and I wanted to break the ice. As it happened he had given that some thought and he had decided that he did not want to write anything down. He preferred looking to the future, to the next camino and to new experiences and encounters. A topic that I would have liked to get into further, but alas, the Spanish… I thought of my journey and how I too don´t really like to record everything. I write a lot, but more notes on thoughts and insights, than on who said what, when and to whom. I cherish my memories, but I prefer them to be imperfect, that takes the edge off. I find people who keep score generally intolerable. 

Not writing down everything does have the consequence of course that some things are forgotten. Will that bother me if I decide to write a book at the end of my travels? Probably a bit, but I don´t intend to write a minute to minute account. That would not only bore any possible readers to death, but me as a writer too. 

I remember a Dutch poem by Willem Wilmink, Echtpaar in de trein. It is about a husband and wife traveling together, the one focused on the past, the other on the future. Wilmink assigns a natural focus to both to which I cannot agree given what I have just written, but I do believe the focus on either future or past is personally fixed. As fixed as a preference for sweet or bitter can be. I made a quick translation of the poem, without much concern for form. It is just to give you an idea: 

Married couple on a train 

With my dearest in a train
I have joy and insights to gain. 
The beautifully crafted seat
is for both a happy treat. 

Prepared and ready to travel far
I am sitting opposite her. 
The sound of the train so often heard
while she travels for-, and I backward. 

There is no difference in the things that pass, 
but I see them slow and she sees them fast. 
She keeps her glance on the future, 
while I keep mine on the past. 

Such is the nature of marital pairing: 
the wife sees what is coming
while the man that lives beside her
Only registers how things were. 

From time anew to time anew
She drives with the future in her view, 
while I drive slowly from the past. 
Both watching through the looking glass. 

I would be happy to know your thoughts and experiences. Have you ever stayed in an albergue de peregrinos? Do you find yourself more inclined to the past or the future and do you think that is an important distinction between people?

Wijnand Boon